The southpaw has been up and down for the New York Yankees. However, James Paxton seems to have figured it out…and not a moment too soon.
Big Maple was a target for the Bronx Bombers this offseason to help bolster their rotation. In fact, he’s been on their radar far before the 2018 season. But the Yankees nailed him down in a trade on Nov. 19, 2018, and brought the lefty on board for their 28th title push.
While Paxton’s debut as a Yankee was less than stellar, he is picking it up at the perfect time for this Yankees team. Amid the “Next Man Up” mentality, Paxton was picked up by his teammates when he went down with injury and struggled throughout June and July.
But August…August was the saving grace for the big lefty. Going 6-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 35.1 innings of work, Paxton found his groove and became the pitcher the Yankees were expecting all along.
Would it have been more beneficial for the Yankees to see this Paxton early on this season? Of course. But luckily the Yankees were able to compensate for his early struggles with strong performances from Domingo German and Masahiro Tanaka.
The point is, the past is in the past. Right now, Paxton is looking like a true ace who is heating up at just the right time to prepare for a deep postseason run.
But what has been the difference for Paxton to do a complete 180 from his early-season struggles? According to Brooks Baseball, Paxton has been making some adjustments to the pitches he’s throwing and it has become very clear in the month of August alone.
Paxton has been known to primarily rely on his fastball but he cut down his fastball usage from 57.3% in July to 47.49% in August. To make up for that, he has been using his most recent secret weapon: a curveball with a knuckle grip.
That pitch has been absolutely filthy for Paxton and a huge reason why he’s become a feared lefty later on in the season. According to Brooks Baseball, from July to August, Paxton increased the use of this knucklecurve by 11.27%.
James Paxton, Nasty 84mph Knuckle Curve. 😨 pic.twitter.com/YZoWWp2JFa
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 3, 2019
Just how dominant is that one pitch? In the month of August, batters are hitting .167 against the knucklecurve.
But Paxton has improved in various ways that may not be as evident on the surface. This season alone, Big Maple has struck out 11-plus batters in five of his outings. The last time he’s done that? Never. Last season he struck out 11-plus batters in just three outings.
Do the Yankees want him starting the first game of the playoffs? Do they rely on him that much? It’s hard to think otherwise when he’s been lights-out in his most recent performances. However, the nod probably won’t go to him.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a savior for them moving forward in the playoffs. While the team may throw someone else at the beginning of the series, they have a weapon in Paxton if he continues to fire like he has in August.
September is already off to a great start for Paxton, who pitched seven innings of one-hit ball while striking out 12 and walking just one batter. A gem by the lefty, Yankees fans haven’t yet forgotten about his struggles. But they’re starting to forgive him a little more with each dominant start.
James Paxton has work to do but right now, he looks like a potential postseason ace. As long as he keeps up that knuckling curveball, he’s set to be on the hill during the World Series.